Eroding Yoruba traditions

I have been thinking about traditions lately and why there seem to be little trust in the traditions we were supposed to hold dare. In return, elders are quick to point out how children of nowadays disregard traditions to embrace science.

Today, I remember Yoruba tradition of Oku r’iro. Oku r’rio usually happens when enough people in the community suspect the death of a loved ones is caused by another person in the community usually by spiritual powers. The deceased will be ‘ro’ so as to come back and take revenge on all those who caused his death.

The ‘ro’ here means that the throat of the dead will be slit and the knife tied to the hand and buried together. The same knife, it is believed is meant to be used to serve revenge on those responsible for his demise. The process of Oku r’iro varies and it is believed to work, if the spirit of the departed is very strong, all those involved in the death of the departed will die in a matter of days after the final burial.

Why do we question traditions?

Several years a go, a family member died after a brief illness, he was about fourteen years old. His death was a huge shock to his family so they decided to ‘ro’ his corpse.

In Yorubaland, unless the cause of death is as a result of prolonged illness or auto accident, lightening, flood etc  usually sudden death is blamed on someone in the community.

For the ritual, I learnt there were lots of sacrifices to be performed, however the crucial part is that a piece of kitchen knife is placed in the corpse’s hand before burying. This knife is the tool that the spirit would use to fight the killers.

I was about nine years old the time I first heard about this rituals so I believed all that was said. Seven days passed and no report of ghost taking revenge so I wondered the credibility of this ritual.

Now as adult, I wondered how this belief came to be in the first place. How could anyone believed a dead person has ability to rise again and take revenge of any kind?

Is Oku r’iro another tradition that can not be proved it worked so safe to leave it in the past it belonged?

Has anyone heard about Oku r’iro and whether it has ever worked?


** Map of the Yoruba Country

Categories: Myths I grow up with, Nigeria

Tags: , , ,

32 replies

  1. I have been reading on your articles on Yoruba traditions.and I agree ,I am a 3d and concept artist, my current project is on recreation of old Oyo empire in 3d. My research hasn’t been in encouraging, has it is hard to find any or useful information, the architecture ,the city design the temples have no physical representation that can b studied, the cultural aspects physical aspects are all secrets, I will still try my best to recreate the city.
    You can follow up on the design on my IG @bunmirah and Facebook @bunmirah designs


    • It can be challenging getting facts about the past but I think one stands a good chance of getting close with persistence. Sometimes knowing where to look can help. I have added a copy of an old map of ‘Yoruba Country’ to the post. The map was published with Rev Samuel Johnson’s History of the Yoruba 1937 edition. Old Oyo is located towards the top, see if it makes any sense.

      I think present day palaces may have copies of old pictures and drawings especially Ife, Oyo, Ibadan – it is worth asking to see if they can help. It will cost you money and leg work for sure.

      All the very best.
      PS: I did check your FB work, e ku ise.


  2. Now you’re spoiling Yoruba movies for me. And Ibo movies come to think of it. We are a people who give too much power to evil. As can be seen in the proliferation of Thunder and Fire ministries. Karma now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, you see this particular one, folks will swear that it used to work in the past but they will never show you someone that it has worked for – little wonder younger generation don’t buy the myth.

      I find it intriguing to learn about ‘what used to be’ I suppose in a perfect place, Nollywood is perfect to debunk myth such as this…


      • Not if it sells movies. I’ve always found Yoruba movies to be unrealistic when it comes to all these voodoo and witchcraft stuff. But it’s fun to watch and see the offender squirm. Imagine a murderer receiving a spiritual flogging in the middle of the night. Serves him right!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve heard such things before but I don’t know if they practise that in my area, and I don’t know if it has yielded any victim. Hmmm

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You know FO, most folks are yet to realize that every form of Religion is an offshoot of a tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Fola,
    It is an interesting tradition. Never heard of it before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yoruba people especially the rural folks still very much believe this to be a practice that works – interesting indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • FK, 10 out of 10 for not running from the truth. I am sure many other Africans would not want the less appealing side of their cultures exposed.
        Questions are dreadfully important for advancement, without questions there are no answers and the status quo is maintained.
        What surprises me is that, you grew up there in the ‘cradle of the culture’ but still had a inquisitive mind and that your parents did not wish to stamp that out of you (because you are female). Do you think you were lucky?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, re hiding away from non appealing cultures – there are so many of these that one just has to laugh off as they’re ‘behind’ us, you know like British Horrible Histories series. However, when unproven traditions still terrified people, that’s just something else.

          I think being a woman is a added factor but less so in my family as we are all girls, so it comes to a time that parents just get used to what they have and be happy…

          I think my parents are to a degree open-minded as they both quite happily share many stories on how traditional beliefs have changed over the years.
          On this Oku r’iro, my father’s take was that he has heard this happened long ago but it did not take long to see how what happened at the time may have just be a case of murder just to prove the tradition was true…

          Am I luck? Well, I think there are many people asking the same questions o, abi?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for the answer, I think luck may not be the whole answer – but it does play a factor. You could have been born into a family where girls are meant to be silent and submissive and do everything their parents and male figures tell them without question, this is not unheard of and still happens. It even occurs in some minority families in Britain.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh yea, no doubt I have been extremely lucky for so many reasons. What I have noticed is that with no real role model on traditions (hard to trust elders whose only worth is cash-for-hand) younger generation are writing their stories the way they see it.


      • In time this too will change.

        Liked by 1 person

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